A family affair: My husband wears dresses

Rod and Shirley Harrison married in September 1995. Three months later, at a fancy dress party, Rod went dressed as a woman. This triggered him to come out as a cross-dresser. By April 1996, the couple were going out together as girlfriends. When dressed as a woman, Rod goes by the name of Christine

Rod

The crunch came three months into our marriage. We'd been to a fancy dress party. I went dressed as a woman, who we called Christine, as that's Shirley's middle name. When we came home Shirley told me to change while she got the supper on. I said I didn't want to take the dress off. Shirley wanted to know why I wouldn't take it off and I said I just felt comfortable, it felt right. She asked: "What's going on?" I said: "I don't know."

We were both confused. She cried and I cried. We talked and hugged. Eventually I took off the clothes I'd been wearing, and the wig, put them in a suitcase, locked it and gave Shirley the key. I said: "You've got the key to Christine, it's up to you whether she stays in there or whether you let her out." We went to bed and she said: "Just let me think about it."

A week later it was Christmas. I opened my presents and there was some nice satin underwear and a cocktail dress from Shirley. In another parcel was a little earring presentation box, and inside, the key to the suitcase.

That was the start of my training programme, as I called it. Shirley did a great deal of hard work grooming me until the real image of Christine came out. My youngest stepdaughter, Beverley, who's a beautician, also helped with make-up.

I told people on a need-to-know basis initially. But when I'd had both ears pierced, started having my nails regularly manicured and my eyebrows shaped, and obviously when the beard and the pipe went, people started to notice the changes.

The first time we went out together as two girls was at a Beaumont Society weekend in Colwyn Bay. It was about four months after I came out. I felt very nervous; my confidence was nil. On the Saturday, Shirley went out and for a walk around town and saw a doll's house she wanted to buy. She came back to the hotel and asked for my help in carrying it. I decided to brave it and changed into a dress. We bought the doll's house, and when I got back to the hotel the sweat was just running down my face. I thought: "God I've done it!"

After that weekend, we started going out in the Village in Manchester on Wednesday evenings. I'm far happier now. I hold my head up when I go out. What I've got in my bra or between my legs is my business. I'm Christine and I'm a lady out enjoying myself. It's the best thing I ever did. It's given me a lot of strength and a lot of confidence. I can choose to be Rod, messing around in my workshop, or I can be Christine.

But I've paid quite a high price because I've lost my daughter as a result. She's getting married in July and I'm not invited to the wedding. It hurts. She never fully accepted Shirley as her stepmother, and I think that she was looking for a way not to associate with us. Once Karen found out about my cross-dressing, that was the excuse she needed. She told me she didn't want me turning up at the wedding in a dress. I said I only wanted to be there as her father, in a man's suit and men's shoes, to give her away. She replied by saying that if I would not change my lifestyle, she wanted me out of her life. She gave me an ultimatum; she hurt me very deeply. I don't hate her for it, but I honestly don't think we'll ever reconcile after this.

But for Shirley and I, it made us closer. We've got the social togetherness when we're out as two girls that takes us away from everything. It's a safety-valve and an escape. It has made our marriage stronger than it could ever have been.

Shirley

Before we got married, there was a bit of an inkling that Rod liked ladies' clothes, but I never really thought much of it, just that he liked to try my shoes on.

After the party, when he said he didn't want to get changed, it was weird. It was only three months after we'd got married, and I was worried about rejection. I'd had one super-disastrous marriage, and I thought I'd gone and fallen straight into another one. It obviously crossed my mind to wonder whether he wanted a sex change. And I thought, if I say "yes" to his cross-dressing, what am I saying about my own sexuality?

It was miserable at first. It took about a week before I could say I was OK with it, to reach that decision. But I didn't totally come to terms with things for eight or nine months. Initially, Christine felt like an intruder, as if there were three people in the marriage. I started to think there was no time for me and Rod. It felt like I was losing the man I'd fallen in love with.

When we went to Colwyn Bay, I was terrified, but there was a couple who befriended us. We had our meal with them and when Christine had gone to the loo, the wife said: "Whatever you do, stay in control. And if he's getting out of hand, you slow him down." And it's the one thing that I've always remembered. I have stayed in control. It's more of a compromise now, though. But at first I did have to say, you can't wear a dress every night.

Becoming part of the cross-dressing community has enhanced my social life. I never used to be one for going to pubs or clubs, but now I look forward to going out every week with Christine. Most of the friends I have now are friends from the cross-dressing world. They're much truer than the friends I had before. If they ask you how you are, it's not out of politeness; it's because they want to know.

When we're out as two girls, we're like friends rather than anything else. But as soon as the clothes are off, we have a male-female relationship. I still feel that my husband fancies me. In actual fact, this has probably made our relationship better, because we're a lot closer. At first, when nobody knew, we had a shared secret, which added to the spice of things. The cross-dressing and everything that goes on in the bedroom are kept completely separate, though; we're not into kinky underwear and stuff like that.

We're a lot closer because of all this. It's a bit like the excitement of having an affair, or something. It's put some sparkle there, but it is a different kind of sparkle.

I don't feel jealous of Christine at all now. She is like a sister for me, or a girlfriend. Christine is a different character from Rod, with different personality traits. Christine brings out the more thoughtful and gentle side in my husband. I still feel like I need time with Rod, though.

The Beaumont Society is a self-help group for cross-dressers, transsexuals and their families. Helpline number: 01582 412220

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